Critique's Zone

The Clean India Initiative: A Success or A Failure?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi plogging on the beaches of Mamallapuram was the headline on a sublime Sunday morning. In the backdrop of the Modi-Xi informal summit, the shunning of single was in the limelight due to a early morning walk. For a change, actions spoke louder than words.

The month of October has been linked to cleanliness and sanitation by the current ruling dispensation in honour of Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi was an advocate of hygiene and sanitation. His principles on this issue are espoused by his quote “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”

As a mark of respect, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan or the Clean India Initiative on the birth anniversary of October 2 in 2014. The picture of the Prime Minister taking up the broom to clean the street sparked off a wave of awareness. This year in 2019, on October 2, he declared the country to be Open Defecation Free (ODF) as a testament to his government’s commitment to ensure proper hygiene to the citizens of the country.

But has the initiative been a runaway success ? The government during every election never fails to draw attention of the voter towards the work done by the government under the Clean India Initiative. From toilets to sewage water treatment plants, these form a regular part of the Prime Minister’s political speeches. Be it in distant foreign lands or in domestic constituencies!

However, to ascertain how effective the initiative has been we need to compare the objectives of the initiative with the efforts put in the by the government and ancillary bodies to achieve the objectives. This comparison would help us understand the progress made towards each objective.

The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan was launched with certain feasible objective targets. To reach a wider audience and achieve a greater degree of success, various stakeholders consisting of school children, university students, white collar employees, eminent personalities were persuaded by the government to become a part of the program.

With different sections of society throwing their weight behind the initiative, it gained immense popularity among the masses. While this popularity played a role in driving awareness home that alone cannot be considered a measure of success. A look at the basic outline of the initiative will be a good place to start.


  • To eradicate the system of open defecation in India.
  • To convert the insanitary toilets into pour flush toilets.
  • To remove the system of manual scavenging.
  • To make people aware of healthy sanitation practices by bringing behavioral changes in people.
  • To link people with the programmes of sanitation and public health in order to generate public awareness.
  • To build up the urban local bodies strong in order to design, execute and operate all systems related to cleanliness.
  • To completely start the scientific processing, disposals reuse and recycling the Municipal Solid Waste.
  • To provide required environment for the private sectors to get participated in the Capital Expenditure for all the operations and maintenance costs related to the clean campaign.

A thorough look at the mentioned objectives in an analytical way would help determine how the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has fared.

With perfection as an abstract utopian concept, everything has its own hits and misses. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan too has its share of successes and failures. The huge amount of promotions have ringed in higher levels of awareness and conscious lifestyle choices. There is a conscious effort by people to not litter, reduce plastic and ecological footprint in their limited capacity.

To enforce this attitude, the administration too rose up to fulfil its duty towards the citizens. Dustbins have cropped at various public places in cities across the country making it easier to dispose off trash. It also inculcates the habit of throwing trash in the bin. Shops and outlets gradually have changed from using polythene bags to cloth or jute bags. Slowly but surely, change is taking shape.

While citizens and organizations have made significant contributions to the changing landscape, let us look at the government intervention. Buildings of toilets and providing basic sanitation coverage to millions of Indians living in rural areas is one of the biggest achievements of the government. The move not only restored the dignity of women but also helped in providing a healthier lifestyle to those women.

The other advantage of having toilets built is reducing the healthcare bills of families. Enhanced savings in the hands of the poor families helps them spend more money in ameliorating their standards of living.

Significant changes have taken place since the launch of the Clean India Initiative, yet some things still remain the same. Despite thousands of dustbin placed in strategic points across cities papers and plastics still litter the street. Standards of hygiene in areas housing low-income families is deplorable. Drainage and sewage infrastructure in many cities across the nation is crumbling but there is no work done to address the issue. Tackling pollution seems to be a seasonal affair.

As I mentioned, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has had its share of hits and misses. So would you deem it a success for providing basic sanitation facilities to millions of families across the country or call it a failure as there is not much visible change in the disposal and treatment of waste?

That is up to you to decide and judge. But before passing judgement, a look at all aspects of the program need to be looked at.

(For that keep watching this space. The second part of 7 part Clean India Initiative series will beginning answering questions on objectives. The second part will deal with sanitation)

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